I arrived in Brno by morning train in June 2006. I stepped out of the station, put down my backpack, and lit a cigarette. I wanted to get my bearings before moving into the city to my first job interview.
A woman wearing a cheap satin sweat suit and heavy makeup approached me.
“Panenka muzeum?” she asked.
I had some knowledge of Czech. I recognized that panenka meant “doll” and I knew “museum”. She repeated it, then switched to English: “Woman?”
She smiled and, in an attempted sexy motion, pulled the zipper of her jacket down to reveal the top of her breasts.
Welcome to Brno.
* * * * *
Perhaps being propositioned within minutes of arriving is not your introduction experience to Brno. Happily, it was not representative of my forthcoming life in the city. I wanted to travel and live in Europe partly to experience the world and mostly to have adventure. Since that inauspicious introduction, I have done both through Brno.
Now, as a new blogger for the Brno Expat Centre, I am in a position to tell my stories. I hope that they will be interesting, humorous, informative, and, hopefully, an inspiration for you, my fellow expats, to share your own stories. I am sure that you have had strange things happen to you in this city. I would like to hear about them. Other expats would like to hear about them, too. Together we might learn from each other and see Brno in a new, more robust way:
Have you seen the road-crew guys laying hot tar in nothing but a Speedo?
What is the best restaurant for your visiting mother?
Have you noticed the modernization of the city?
Do you welcome the steady increase of restaurant breakfasts and fun runs?
What about the way that hamburgers have begun to appear on every menu?
Do these things happen where you are from? I am from the United States: Construction workers cannot work in swimwear and, to be honest, I have probably eaten more hamburgers here because everyone wants to know which is the best burger in Brno and I feel obliged to have an answer.
What was your first visit to a doctor like or have you experienced a Czech hospital visit?
What were the hurdles you had to clear with the Foreign Police?
Were you hopelessly lost when summer construction season rerouted trams and buses?
Did you take a driver training course 20 years and, conservatively, half a million kilometers after you did it the first time?
I have something to say about all of these things to bring life to the black-and-white information lists of phone numbers and office hours. Some topics will be light – why do I have to bring a cake to work on my birthday? – and others may be more heavy – to what extent are expats considered the enemy by marauding anti-immigrant protestors?
I am sure that you have opinions, too, and I hope you will share them. After all, a community of expats is nothing if not supportive through collective experience: Through Brno we can learn from each other.
* * * * *
I have lived in Brno for nine years. I got the job from that first interview, took additional jobs, and have established a comfortable and rewarding career as a teacher. I fell in love with a Czech woman, got married in the cathedral, and now have a nine-month-old daughter. I started gardening and home improvement projects, became a go-to-every-game Zbrojovka football fan, and returned to jogging. I stopped smoking, but not beer-drinking, and I have not been propositioned by a prostitute since that first morning.
Brno is a city to which I didn’t have any connection when I was younger but that will likely be the anchor for the rest of my life. It is through Brno that I was able to understand parts of me that had been previously unfocused. In that way, I have matured through Brno.
Your experiences are unique. Through Brno will be a space to share those experiences.
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